Human balance control: Dead zones, intermittency, and micro-chaos

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Citations (Scopus)


The development of strategies to minimize the risk of falling in the elderly represents a major challenge for aging in industrialized societies. The corrective movements made by humans to maintain balance are small amplitude, intermittent and ballistic. Small-amplitude, complex oscillations (“micro-chaos”) frequently arise in industrial settings when a time-delayed digital processor attempts to stabilize an unstable equilibrium. Taken together, these observations motivate considerations of the effects of a sensory threshold on the stabilization of an inverted pendulum by time-delayed feedback. In the resulting switching-type delay differential equations, the sensory threshold is a strong small-scale nonlinearity which has no effect on large-scale stabilization but may produce complex, small-amplitude dynamics including limit cycle oscillations and micro-chaos. A close mathematical relationship exists between a scalar model for balance control and the micro-chaotic map that arises in some models of digitally controlled machines. Surprisingly, transient, time-dependent, bounded solutions (“transient stabilization”) can arise even for parameter ranges where the equilibrium is asymptotically unstable. In other words, the combination of a sensory threshold with a time-delayed sampled feedback can increase the range of parameter values for which balance can be maintained, at least transiently. Neurobiological observations suggest that sensory thresholds can be manipulated either passively by changing posture or actively using efferent feedback. Thus it may be possible to minimize the risk of falling by means of strategies that manipulate sensory thresholds by using physiotherapy and appropriate exercises.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMathematical Approaches to Biological Systems
Subtitle of host publicationNetworks, Oscillations, and Collective Motions
PublisherSpringer Japan
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9784431554448
ISBN (Print)9784431554431
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015



  • Balance control
  • Dead zones
  • Delayed feedback
  • Intermittency
  • Micro-chaos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)
  • Mathematics(all)
  • Computer Science(all)

Cite this

Milton, J., Insperger, T., & Stepan, G. (2015). Human balance control: Dead zones, intermittency, and micro-chaos. In Mathematical Approaches to Biological Systems: Networks, Oscillations, and Collective Motions (pp. 1-28). Springer Japan.